Downtown Redding used to be a fair-to-middling food wasteland with little but fast food offerings, while chain restaurants sprouted like weeds in Enterprise and induced Westside residents to venture across the river in search of dinner. But a few brave folks have taken the bull by the teeth (to mix several metaphors) and forged ahead in Old Redding with independently-owned restaurants. Fuji Japanese Restaurant occupies a spot on Placer Street that was a garage when Femme de Joie was a child but which morphed into a wide range of businesses over the years, including the late lamented Redding Bookstore and previously another restaurant.
Service is very fast and friendly; you’re seated immediately and staff is attentive. Specials are on a board facing the door when you walk in. Each table has a little card that explains the World of Sushi for neophytes.
Sake maka (mackerel), $4.25 and spicy tuna roll, $5.95
Spicy tuna roll was not at all spicy. It was tuna with avocado and tobiko (flying fish roe), nothing spicy about those. The sushi rice had been rolled in the tobiko quite a white back because all shine and “pop” was gone from the eggs, and they adhered firmly and glutinously to the rice. The only real taste was from the avocado. Mackerel is an oily fish that can be overwhelmingly fishy in taste, depending on how it was cured with salt, but this was mushy and had no taste, fishy or otherwise. Both rolls appeared to have been made in advance because they were served very, very quickly.
Beef sukiyaki, $11.95
Beef sukiyaki was a warming treat on a snowy day (though awkward to eat while working around the bail on the cooking pan). Included were tender-crisp carrots, zucchini, cabbage, scallions, asparagus, daikon with noodles, and strips of beef in slightly sweet broth. If you ever have to take someone to a Japanese restaurant who professes to not like Japanese food (fear of raw fish), this is what they should order, to break them in gently.
Bento box #5 – beef teriyaki, tempura, California roll with salad, soup, rice, $7.95.
Bento boxes come with a choice of miso soup, corn chowder, or hot & sour soup. Hot and sour was hot but not very sour, with a pleasing earthy mushroom taste. The miso soup at Fuji is packed with lots of seaweed and makes a nice light starter.
Beef teriyaki was luscious bites of tender beef in a not-too-sweet sauce with onion shards. Iceberg lettuce in creamy miso dressing occupied one corner of the tray; the miso dressing would be delicious on decent lettuce. California roll — made ahead — had avocado taste at the front but not much seafood taste. Freshly-made and crispy tempura had one large shrimp, one Brussels sprout (odd but really very good done this way), a slice of onion, a slice of yam, a whole mushroom, one asparagus spear, a slice of carrot, and one item that may or may not have been a log of sweet red bean paste. A slice of orange with a sweet-tart fruity powder sprinkled across the flesh and served afterwards was a nice touch.
Spicy calamari, $7.95 as a lunch special.
There was plenty of tender calamari, nicely done tempura-style, but no spice to speak of — poking around, M. de Joie eventually located the shards of one smallish dried hot chili amongst the calamari. While not everyone is as fond of hot and spicy dishes as M. de Joie, if you’re not going to prepare a dish as hot and spicy, why advertise it so?
Bunny roll, $15.95 lunch special.
M. de Joie had to laugh at this wildly Rococo and architecturally improbable creation served up before Easter. On the inside: spicy tuna, avocado, cream cheese, and crab meat. On the outside: tempura avocado, crab meat, and special spicy sauce. This was impossible to eat with chopsticks and difficult to eat with fingers or fork: it simply would not hold together and in any case was much too big to eat in one bite. It was entertaining, to be sure, and freshly made and tasty, but the multiple and contra-distinctive ingredients meant some of the subtler tastes (like crab) got lost.
After several visits, M. de Joie is a bit torn about Fuji. It has many fine qualities but some of the food is hit-or-miss, and it appears some shortcuts are taken that affect the quality. On the one hand, Femme de Joie likes the speedy service and fair prices (lunch specials are a good value) at Fuji Japanese Restaurant. Dishes that are prepared to order like tempura, sukiyaki, teriyaki, and special rolls are very good and worth a return trip for. On the other hand, dishes like sushi rolls (particularly the most commonly ordered ones like California rolls, tuna, etc.) that depend on immediacy and fresh preparation seem to be made ahead, which does them no favor. And there’s no tea in the teapot! When you order tea ($1.95), it comes almost instantly (good) with no tea or teabag (not so good). It’s pre-made and kept hot. Tea really doesn’t improve upon standing and M. de Joie wonders why Fuji can’t just pour boiling water into a pot and add a teabag.
Fuji can be worth a visit for its good value, friendliness, and for some of the made-to-order dishes, but M. de Joie advises diners to inquire about when the fish was delivered before ordering sashimi and to ask when sushi rolls were made. With a bit more care and time devoted to each dish that comes out of the kitchen, everything on the menu could be terrific.
Fuji Japanese Restaurant, 1545 Placer Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-243-8366. Open Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m, Sunday 4 p.m.- 9 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking or park in the mall parking lot. Vegetarian and vegan options. Credit and debit cards; no checks.
Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more.
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